By Jawad Mazhar, Worthy News Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
TOBA TEK SINGH, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- Police have arrested a local branch manager of Pakistan's Khushali Bank Limited (KBL) in Punjab province for allegedly using force to recover a bank loan from a Christian entrepreneur, who later died of a heart attack, leaving behind a wife and three children, government officials said Wednesday, April 14.
Bankers on March 30 raided the welding shop of Younas Masih on the outskirts of the province's Toba Tek Singh District, after he failed to repay a loan of roughly $202 in local currency because of a drop in production, due to recent power outages in the impoverished region, explained his brother Shahbaz Masih.
The local KBL branch manager, Waseem Ahmed, was named by police officials as among the suspects in the raid. Ahmed and other bankers "illegally and forcibly loaded Younas Masih’s welding machinery on a donkey cart and went away," his brother added.
"They took away his properties altough Masih continuously pleaded with them to have mercy on him," said a neighboring shop owner, speaking on condition of anonymity, apparently for fear of repercussions. "The shop was the bread and butter of his family."
Soon after the raid, Younas Masih apparently collapsed in his empty welding workshop, and eventually died at a nearby hospital. "I immediately took him to the nearest private clinic but he succumbed to great shock and passed away in unconsciousness at the clinic due to a heart attack," Shahbaz Masih told Worthy News and its partner agency BosNewsLife.
KBL has denied making life difficult of already impoverished people.
It said on its Website that it is "driven by a deep and compassionate understanding of the poverty factor..." and "today the largest microfinance institution in Pakistan in terms of coverage."
Microfinance, as provided to Younas Masih, is however "a high-cost proposition hardly perceived as a commercial activity designed for profit...", it added.
Yet, Christian politician Mushtaq Gill of the Democratic Minorities Alliance suggested that KBL seemed more lenient towards Muslim shop keepers facing difficulties in repaying debts. "They visited only deceased Masih’s small workshop and repeatedly threatened him of dire consequences. He was a soft target being a Christian..."
Local police said that besides the branch manager, it has also charged other bank officials in Punjab province with "threatening and creating conditions enough to induce someone's death".
No more details of the investigation were announced Wednesday, April 14.
The widow of Younas Masih has appealed to Pakistan's federal and provincial governments to "ensure justice" and to financially support her and her three small children, said Tahir Naveed Chaudhary, a Christian member of Punjab's parliament.
He said he supported the widow's request. "A precious life of a Christian man, and father of three children, could have been saved if the KBL team had taken lawful steps."
Rights activists have complained about what they view as growing Muslim pressure on Christian entrepreneurs and workers in the predominantly Islamic nation. (With editing by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).